Our English word luck, according to some authorities, is of Scandinavian origin, while others consider it to be the past tense of an Anglo-Saxon verb meaning "to catch." Luck signifies, therefore, a good catch, and is analogous to the German Glück. It has been aptly remarked that very many so-called strong-minded persons, who would not for a moment admit that they are superstitious, are yet not insensible to the fascination of this little monosyllable. As Christian people, we profess to believe implicitly in Divine Providence; yet often because we cannot understand its workings, we so far relapse into paganism as to worship secretly the Goddess Fortune. The fact is, that superstition is an ineradicable element of human nature. The combined forces of religion, education, philosophy, and common sense are allied in a perpetual warfare against it. The thousand and one little credulities which form such an important part of modern folk-lore may be intrinsically the veriest whimsies and trifles, but they are evidence of the tenacity of traditional beliefs.
The modern sailor carries in his pocket a bit of sealskin, or an eagle's beak, to shield him from the lightning; and the Southern negro has his rabbit's foot, and a host of other outlandish fetiches, all for luck.
The millions of American negroes have, indeed, a deeply-rooted love for the supernatural, and their character exhibits a peculiar blending of superstition and religion. Among the mixed colored races in Missouri, for example, we find a bewildering jumble of African Voodoo credulities, the traditions of the American Indian, and religious fanaticism. Thus, in "Voodoo Tales," by Mary A. Owen, we read of an old crone who kept her medicine-pipe and eagle-bone whistle alongside of her books of devotion, carried a rosary and rabbit's foot in the same pocket, and wore a saint's toe dangling on her bosom, and a luck-bar under her right arm.
It has been well said that only those whose minds are predisposed to entertain idle fancies are wont to regard misfortune as a natural sequence of the legion of alleged evil omens. Yet we know that in all ages and countries such notions have prevailed. The ancient Chaldeans made use of magic formulae to ward off ill-luck, and Tacitus relates that the most trivial events were regarded as portentous by the Roman people. What a contrast to the credulity of a superstitious age is afforded by the often quoted remark of Cato the Censor, who refused to regard it as ominous when informed that his boots had been gnawed by rats! "If the boots had gnawed the rats," he said, "it might have portended evil."
There is a deal of philosophy in the Irish saying, "Every man has bad luck awaiting him some time or other, but leave the bad luck to the last; perhaps it may never come."
In attributing the sundry and divers misfortunes of our lives to bad luck, we surely ignore the fact that these same unwelcome experiences are often the logical sequences of our own shortcomings, and that the fickle goddess cannot with fairness be made always to masquerade as our scapegoat.